The contents of the backpack were easy to take out. A change of clothes, some carefully-chosen toiletries, a hand-written card and a hand-made bracelet. “They were also life-changing”, says one of the first women, a survivor, to receive one of the specially-prepared backpacks assembled by caring members of St. Michael’s council of the Catholic Women’s League.
The woman received the backpack when she arrived at RESET, a Calgary-based agency that helps women ages 16 and older escape sexual exploitation and trafficking. Bringing nothing but the jeans and T-shirt she’d worn for three days, the woman says she, “can’t put into words how much it meant to have something to change into. I cried when I read the card, and wore the bracelet on my ankle for three straight months. It’s now hanging on my wall.”
St. Michael’s CWL, with help from councils at Holy Name, Holy Spirit, St. Peter’s, St. Bonaventure and St. Albert the Great, launched the IWIN – I’m Worth It Now backpack initiative in late 2019. IWIN has already distributed eight of its first 12 packs in partnership with Calgary Police Service and RESET Society of Calgary (formerly Servants Anonymous). Another 18 will be assembled this year, says project lead Kristin Fahlman.
Kristin had previously participated in a project to combat human trafficking overseas and had learned of a similar backpack program operating in Florida, but did not know of the need to help survivors here. After attending a local conference about human trafficking in Canada, she knew God was calling her to take local action to address this issue.
When the conference ended, the Holy Spirit led her to Detective Paul Rubner, a Calgary Police Service officer who works on the front lines of human trafficking in Calgary. “I introduced myself and explained my idea. He was extremely enthusiastic and, as it turns out, he was the key person in Calgary who would know how to implement distribution system for the backpacks.”
Research shows human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes in Canada, affecting people from all walks of life. It is also one of the most lucrative of criminal activities, with traffickers profiting up to $600,000 per victim, per year.
“We chose the name IWIN because we want survivors to know that they are worthy; worthy right at this very moment. It doesn’t matter what their past looks like. It doesn’t matter if they have plans for their future or not. They are worthy of love and respect,” says Kristin.
Each backpack is linked to a “prayer warrior” who receives a bracelet that matches one in a backpack. Survivors are told that someone else has a matching bracelet—and is now linked to them in prayer.
The next group of backpacks will also include hand-made reusable face-masks made by CWL members. “Two masks were added to each of the remaining packs and the plan is to include them in all future backpacks,” explains Kristin.
To learn more about IWIN and how you can assist, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edited by Joy Gregory for Faithfully, on behalf of the Catholic Women's League.
Photos submitted by Jan Myhre, Calgary Diocesan CWL.
One of Calgary’s newest vegetable gardens is located in the backyard of Elizabeth House (EH), a maternal care home that’s now growing ready-to-eat plants alongside healthy babies. In a world hungry for good news, this project fits the bill, says Michelle Haywood, program manager at Elizabeth House.
Opened by the Catholic Diocese of Calgary more than 20 years ago, Elizabeth House provides supportive housing to at-risk pregnant and parenting women who need a safe place to live. Seeded into two new raised beds, this year’s inaugural garden is busy growing everything from lettuce to tomatoes, carrots and squash. It’s also nurturing at least one young resident’s interest in vegetable production—and it all began with a group of Catholic men who dared ask the folks at EH a simple question: How can we help?
The raised beds, like every other landscape revitalization project undertaken at Elizabeth House since 2017, were built by the St. Peter’s Council of the Knights of Columbus. That’s the year the council’s Grand Knight Peter Dugandzic reached out to Haywood. That conversation laid the foundation of a relationship that’s flourished over four years, thousands of dollars and hundreds of volunteer hours.
“What the Knights have done here is amazing, but it’s about more than landscaping,” notes Haywood. “There’s also a sense of being cared for by this group of gentlemen offering their hands and hearts to help us. It’s hard to put that kind of support into words.”
Love in action
By 2018, Dugandzic was leading a group of Knights of Columbus in some serious hands-on work. Together, the men transformed the home’s weed-filled backyard into a summer oasis, complete with new sod and a new patio, outdoor furniture, a barbecue, perimeter shrub beds and an underground sprinkler. That same year, another council based in Airdrie provided the labour to re-side EH’s home and detached garage.
Last year, the Knights tackled the home’s front yard, again adding fresh sod, shrubs and irrigation.
“Everybody was pretty excited when Peter brought the idea to the council,” remembers Lu Scarpino. Sworn in as the Grand Knight at St. Peter’s this July, Scarpino was the council treasurer when the project began. “Elizabeth House is doing great work and it’s nice to be able to support that. I think we’ve built a relationship that will continue for many years,” adds Scarpino.
Fr. Jonathan Gibson agrees. The pastor at St. Peter’s parish, Fr. Gibson says the relationship between the knights and Elizabeth House reinforces the governing principles of the Knights of Columbus. Charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism have all been strengthened by the project, says the priest. He views the relationship between the Knights of Columbus and Elizabeth House as a real-world example of how these knights live the heart of the gospel by doing work that cares for the women and children who live at Elizabeth House.
With the vegetable garden beds built and seeded, Dugandzic and Haywood are now focused on relocating a grotto built on the grounds of the original EH site in the Mission district. The stone work will be done by the same skilled tradesmen who built the grotto and one at the new Our Lady of the Rockies church in Canmore. The statue of Mary is being repainted by Dugandzic’s wife, Dorothy Voytechek. The new grotto will include a glass panel to protect the statue from the elements.
The grotto will be added to the backyard; already a place of refuge for residents, their children and EH staff, says Haywood. Given the complications of COVID-19, she knows the Knights at St. Peter’s didn’t have their usual opportunities to fundraise in 2020. That means some of the costs incurred were covered by individual knights and their families.
Dugandzic, who’s already working with Elizabeth House on projects for 2021, says he launched the EH project as a way to invigorate the Knights he led. Looking back, he admits the project’s success goes way beyond the physical spaces they created. “Elizabeth House is dear to our hearts. We like the work that they do. That house is nearly always full and it feels good to know our knights have helped make it an even more special place.”
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
“At Bowmont I learnt how to live a structured life and how to conduct my work with love,” says Joe Kaup, 23, a married engineer working in Calgary. Kaup is one of the many young men who lived in Bowmont, a small residence for male students close to the University of Calgary and SAIT. It is run by Opus Dei members; the residents need not be Catholic. Its director, Evan Francis, a plastics-recycling engineer, says it is much more than a residence: it tries to form young men who can transform society. To that end, it tries to be a home away from home, foster good study habits, reach out to the most needy.
Joe, from Edmonton, did an internship in Calgary while in the third year of Engineering at the University of Alberta, and stayed at Bowmont eight months. He enjoyed the feeling of companionship and support for his faith.
“I really liked that after supper we would visit the Blessed Sacrament in the small chapel, and have a get-together afterwards where I could get to know everyone a little better through lively discussion.”
Carter Snethun, 20, was living in the residence the school year, 2016-2017, studying Engineering. “There is a big focus on the development of the whole person. You are encouraged to do things to the best of your abilities. There are lots of opportunities for learning.”
Joe credits the housekeeping staff. “The amount of time one saves by not having to do laundry, cook, or do the majority of the cleaning cannot be overstated. It then gives one far more time that can be directed towards studies or the pursuit of other skills. I was able to develop my skill at playing the guitar.” Carter concurs.
Two Calgary-area brothers have experienced Opus Dei residences in other cities. Fr. Nathan Siray, the pastor of Our Lady of the Rockies (Canmore), frequented Riverview Centre in Montreal in 2002-2003, while studying history at McGill University.
“My roommate invited me to join him for morning Mass and weekly activities at Riverview, walking distance from campus. I felt very welcomed. I most appreciated the time that the priest and the director of Riverview took to offer spiritual direction. I also enjoyed the variety of cultural activities that took place, from lectures on various topics to informally discussing our favourite musical artists. It was a great mix of faith formation, cultural enrichment and opportunities to grow in my life of Christian outreach.”
Did this help him become a priest? “The greatest help was to discern what a vocation apart from the priesthood would look like, as I saw the vocations of celibate members. I saw how well they lived as disciples of Christ in the world and showed how fruitful this vocation is. As I pondered this beautiful calling, it became more apparent to me that I was called to the ordained priesthood.”
His younger brother Justin lived at Glenwood in 2013-2014, in Vancouver, while studying at UBC. Now he works in Calgary as a high school teacher, is married and has a one-year-old boy.
“My stay at Glenwood helped give me an idea of what a structured Catholic lifestyle could be. No matter how busy things get, you can always get organized, manage the chaos of life, and find the best balance of faith, work and free time. It was truly a happy place to be: there were always smiles and stories floating around.”
Written by Fernando Mignone
Many are internally displaced or flee to neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. Some, Syrians in particular, have settled in parts of Canada, including Calgary, but for those who stay or have gone back, their homes are often destroyed and require a lot of rebuilding. “Sometimes people don’t feel safe moving back to their town,” said Gabriel. “There have been cases of kidnapping, harrassment, discrimination. There have been times that they’ve been killed because of their faith.”
Due to difficulties crossing check points, Palestinian Christians aren’t always granted a pass to attend Easter Mass in Jerusalem. “The locals can’t experience Easter there, but the tourists have no problem,” said Gabriel.
She organizes pilgrimages with CNEWA to the Holy Land for those wanting both a spiritual experience and a snapshot into the life of local Christians. The next one is being planned for 2020. “The Christians are always very grateful when we come and visit them. They feel supported,” said Gabriel.
In August, Gabriel spoke at the national Catholic Women’s League (CWL) Convention held in Calgary because CNEWA is one of the charities CWL supports at the national level. Two of the projects CWL funds are a centre in Jerusalem that provides tutoring for at-risk youth and a centre near Bethlehem providing healthcare for women and their babies.
National CWL President Anne-Marie Gorman went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and met some of the local Christians, including entrepreneurs who left to seek education in the United States, but returned to open a brewery. “Things seem to be so unstable, so I’m thinking if they have enough faith to go home and settle back in the Palestinian occupied territory, it behooves us to support them as best we can,” said Gorman.
“Our past spiritual adviser Bishop Martin Currie said the Holy Land is in danger of becoming like Disneyland, just a tourist site that people go see what it used to be like. But when I was there, it was all about these people being living stones. These are the people that haven’t left.”
St. Bonaventure parishioner Kathleen Kufeldt is one of many Calgarian donors who financially support CNEWA. For several years she has organized a raffle at her parish for CNEWA during the annual CWL fundraiser. “I think we are so blessed here to practice our faith. My heart goes out to the Christians in the Middle East,” said Kufeldt.
“I feel it must be one of Jesus’s wounds that the area where He was born and grew up is so difficult for His followers.”
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
Nearly 900 Catholic Women’s League (CWL) members from across Canada gathered at the Hyatt Hotel in Calgary Aug. 18-21 for the 99th Annual National Convention.
Each year members debate and vote on resolutions, forming League policy and guiding their advocacy work. The CWL members passed two resolutions concerning the rights of the unborn and a nuclear arms ban.
The first resolution to pass was — Canada to Honour its Commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Canada ratified this United Nations agreement to protect the unborn 20 years ago, yet there is still no Canadian legislation protecting the unborn at any stage of development.
“When you sign something and ratify it, you’d expect some legislation to appear,” said CWL President Anne-Marie Gorman. “What we are looking for is legislation. You said you were going to do it, so why hasn’t someone done it. We’ll be asking that question.”
The second resolution to pass asks the Canadian Government to honour the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. CWL wants the federal government to support, sign and ratify this treaty which the UN adopted in July 2017; so far 25 countries have ratified it.
Once members adopt a resolution an executive committee prepares to bring the concerns to federal politicians in Ottawa on behalf of all 78,000 members in the coming months.
Each convention also has a spiritual, educational and cultural component. Four Calgarians spoke on this year’s theme “Care For Our Common Home.” Dr. Peter Baltutis, Dr. Timothy Harvie, Sr. Madeleine Gregg and Marilou LeGeyt unpacked the topic from both theological and practical perspectives.
Dressed in a white sweater jacket and matching pearl earrings Sr. Dorothy Ederer, a Grand Rapids Dominican Sister from Michigan, delivered a high-energy, entertaining and emotional keynote address titled “What is our common home? We care for our homeland, our homes, our hearts.”
“Everyone take out your phones,” said Ederer. “What would God be calling to tell you if He were on the other line?”
Ederer proceeded to tell her captivated audience for the next two hours how each person is called to be Christ-like and loving toward their neighbour using a series of personal stories from her time in ministry and mission, interspersed with inspirational songs and tidbits of wisdom. She highlighted topics such as daily prayer, finding your passion and reconciliation.
“What kinds of values do we want to leave to our children or those coming after us?” asked Ederer.
She used the phrase “more is caught than taught” to highlight how her mother would keep a holy hour each morning before getting on with her day. “Kids imitate us,” she said.
“Find your passion, live it, but don’t compromise your morals and values,” she said.
She urged the Church to be a place where people are loved and forgiven.
“To forgive yourself is one of the hardest things we have to do as Christians,” she said. “If you hold anger in your heart it’s destroying you. It’s like taking a glass of poison and pouring it down your throat.”
Her last message was one of hope and love. “I want to tell you how loved you are.”
Conventions are an opportunity for renewal and Gorman said she hopes all CWL members will take what they’ve learned and share it with their communities.
“I hope they leave appreciating who they are and that God loves them,” said Gorman.
Written by Sara Francis for the Diocese of Calgary
Photos courtesy of Annie Chirka, St. Peter's Calgary
See more photos here: https://st-peters.ca/cwl/
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers